The reunion of one of the most innovative groups in modern jazz , comprising three players who have changed the nature of the music, is a major event. Although Paul Bley has played with Gary Peacock in diverse contexts over the years and also with Paul Motian, and although Peacock and Motian have established themselves as one of the era's most significant bass and drums teams, this is the first time that all three musicians have recorded together since the album Paul Bley with Gary Peacock (ECM 1003), issued in 1970. The tapes of the trio included on that historic album were recorded in 1963 and selected by Manfred Eicher - along with recordings of a later edition of the group with Billy Elgart on drums - from the mastertapes that then lined Paul's Greenwich Village home. It was music that hinted at the shape of jazz to come from ECM.
The Bley-Peacock-Motian trio followed close on the heels of two other important improvising aggregations involving Bley - his own trio with Steve Swallow and Pete La Roca which recorded the groundbreaking Footloose and the Jimmy Giuffre Trio, whose swansong Free Fall was taped just six months earlier. Bley and Motian were also briefly part of a Gary Peacock Quartet with Sun Ra tenorist John Gilmore (heard on the album Turning Point).
All of these ensembles found new ways to approach the concept of musical freedom. Bley had already played with Charlie Parker, with Charles Mingus and Ornette Coleman and acquired a taste for all forms of jazz that overturned expectations. Bley: "It was a very exciting period. The music was changing in leaps and bounds - it had just changed last week, and for all you knew, it could change again tomorrow night. We went to every job with complete optimism." Gradually the group jettisoned the playing of time, moving towards what they then called "free form/free song" playing, in contradistinction to the pure energy music that constituted much free jazz of the period. Subtlety, lyricism and chamber music sensibilities were uppermost. Traditional rhythm section responsibilities could be abandoned and usually were. The musicians explored parallel, improvised parts as they negotiated the new terrain, its waves, its spaces, its silences. "The beauty of having a drummer like Paul Motian," Bley would say later, "was that you were free to go wherever you wanted. He didn't play accompaniment. So you didn't have to worry 'If I take a left turn will the drummer be able to follow me'' - because Motian had no intention of following you in the first place."
The present reunion of these musicians was instigated by Gary Peacock and the way in which the session proceeds bears out a remark Bley made to the bassist at the very beginning of their association: "There is nothing in our contract that says we have to play together, at the same time." This was another innovation, now taken for granted, which turned around the dramaturgy of live jazz performance, and also encouraged Peacock's coming out as a solo bassist second to none. "Entelechy" on "Not Two, Not One" is a fine instance of Gary's solo strength, his choice of notes, and depth of feeling.
Warming up for the session, Bley-Peacock-Motian delivered what the New York Times, in January 1998, called "a quiet, understated, nearly anti-showbusiness performance" at Birdland: "The bassist, pianist and drummer, who have played in various pairs for 35 years but rarely as a trio, long ago signed on to the project of flipping over jazz aesthetics: by erasing clear rhythmic demarcations; making silences emphatic; reimagining swing as an expanding and contracting, hot and cold, speeding up and slowing-down stream of sound, and still improvising with continuous logic and musicality. Their jazz...hinted at deep solitary pleasures rather than outward exultation...Mr Bley was dry to the extreme. He played his changing tempos at an even, medium volume, breaking into fragments of ballads and blues...Even Mr Peacock's lightest notes resonated long and deeply, and he transmitted emotion...Mr Motian's pulse delivered only the essentials. Sometimes one brush on a cymbal every four beats would do the trick, and sometimes he carried out a slowly changing pattern with the loosest possible feel, defining that line between form and atrophy. The set wasn't formless. But some of the tunes seemed to simply arise from the subconscious. Some endings, likewise, were unceremonious and unapologetic, like water wearing down a sandhill." Much of this can be applied to Not Two, Not One. The album also gives us a chance to revisit "Fig Foot", a Bley tune that's become a standard of a sort, surfacing under a variety of titles - "Big Foot", "Pig Foot" "Figfood" - since Paul first recorded it on the ESP album Closer (another new jazz classic) in 1965. It has appeared twice on Paul's ECM recordings - on the aforementioned Paul Bley with Gary Peacock, and on John Surman's 1991 album Adventure Playground (with Bley, Peacock and Tony Oxley).
Always quick to maximise the best characteristics of a given instrument Paul Bley warmed to the low end of the Bösendorfer in New York's Avatar Studios, and "Not Zero: In Three Parts," and "Now" incorporate depth-soundings rare in improvised piano music. Throughout Not Two, Not One the musicians show that they are still able to surprise each other, and us.